I must create a Master Piece to pay the Rent is the first museum survey exhibition devoted to the work of Julie Becker (American, 1972–2016). Inspired by the psychological, cinematic, and physical geographies of her hometown of Los Angeles, Becker produced a rarely-seen body of installations, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and videos immersed in the human psyche’s formulation of truth, fiction, and myth.
At turns embellishing or skewering the idylls of the 20th-century American dream, Becker’s singular aesthetic visions articulate the fantasies, nightmares, and dispossessions underpinning the social imaginary of late capitalism, with special emphasis on the loneliness and estrangement that results from social inequity. Drawing from sources as diverse as Stephen King’s The Shining, Kay Thompson’s children’s book Eloise, and Disney’s The Gnome-Mobile, Becker also found inspiration in suburban stoner lore about the karmic convergences between MGM’s 1939 musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Dream scenarios weave throughout Becker’s work; her drawings feature fantastical inventions and landscapes, and her architectural spaces expand and contract, both realized at actual scale and in miniature. Becker’s work reflects her own personal experiences living in precarious spaces, both as the child of itinerant artist parents moving from one generic Los Angeles apartment complexes to another, or later as an adult living in a dilapidated building caught in the flux of real estate speculation. Within these works, the artist’s chosen cultural references collide with an idiosyncratic, and at times dark aura of childish wonder and projection, rendering interior space as psychically charged and provisional, conjuring sites that function both as refuge and fantastical escape.
This exhibition is a part of Summer at MoMA PS1. First presented at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 2018, the exhibition features an expanded presentation of Becker’s work, including the artist’s formative installation Researchers, Residents, A Place to Rest (1993-1996) along with more than 60 photographs, works on paper, video installations, and sculptures. In her multifaceted practice, Becker moved between her own life, lives she richly imagined, and the tough realities of American poverty, gentrification, and displacement.